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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Vale Notions Unlimited!

Years ago, I used to go regularly to my favourite SF bookshop, Space Age, where I bought some of the books that are among my most prized possessions, and recordings that would probably be worth a mint on eBay these days.

When that closed, we eventually got Slow Glass on the same site. Slow Glass, like Space Age, was a shop where SF fans could congregate before meetings, where writers would sometimes come to do signings. It was brighter and less musty than Space Age.

That too closed when the landlord tripled the rent, as they tend to do when they want to get rid of a tenant and replace them with a fast food joint; the owner, Justin Ackroyd, did open a small shop somewhere in the suburbs, which I never saw and which was open odd hours according to who had to look after the child at the time. Justin is still in business but online and at conventions, where I have to say he always brings my books.

Still, it's not a bookshop. And much as I love my ebooks, there is something about browsing in a shop that downloading just can't match.

For a while, there was Of Science And Swords in the CBD - gone.

But then, out in the suburbs again, was the wonderful Notions Unlimited, run by that very funny man, Chuck McKenzie. I couldn't go regularly, because it was in the outer suburbs. But whenever I went, I'd buy $80 or so worth of books, if not more. It was like having Slow Glass back. It had a lot of classics, some small press books and non fiction which I bought eagerly. There was a Dalek and a comfy chair area around a coffee table where games were played on the weekends.

This is the thing about fans. I don't know about the game players at NU, who were, after all, doing what they had been invited to do and no doubt bought plenty of books, but quite often, when a place becomes a centre for fannish gatherings,  the fans gather and socialise and don't actually buy anything. And it's not that they have no money, more likely that they spent it on something else, somewhere  else.  Games. The latest season of their favourite TV show.  Something on eBay. Or they simply couldn't be bothered waiting for an ordered book to arrive, when they could get it quicker online.

Now this wonderful shop is closed, with no plans to reopen anywhere else, and it's our fault for not supporting a local business. Even friends I urged to go along and try it didn't want to bother travelling to that side of the city, though it was close to the station.

It had been in trouble for a while and I admit I always wondered how long it would last in that
location. In the suburbs, you can't discover a shop you wander past, you have to go there - and this
one was in an arcade. You had to know it was there.

Still, a lot of us did know it was there.  And now it's not and all we have left is Minotaur, which is just too big and commercial for my tastes. It used to be a fannish shop, but no longer.

Maybe that's why it has survived.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

This Weeks Downloads, Especially Freebies!

It's amazing what you can get free, legally, on the Internet's book sites. Would you believe there are items on Project Gutenberg that you would never have thought were out of copyright?

I have been able to download early novellas by the likes of Poul Anderson, Fritz Leiber and Harry Harrison.  Do you like the Stainless Steel Rat, Slippery Jim DiGriz? There's a story called "The Misplaced Battleship" on Gutenberg. I also found his short story "The Repairman".  There are some Fritz Leiber stories I have read and loved before and am pleased to have in ebook form, "The Big Time" and "No Great Magic". I have both of these in a collection somewhere on my shelves, but it's nice to be able to carry them around on my cybershelves. I've also found some I'd never heard of. Can't wait to read them!

There are, of course, the classics. I found an Andrew Lang book I didn't know about - Lang did all those fairy books back in the nineteenth century and I have his edition of Kirk's Secret Commonwealth of Elves(I did have to pay for that one a while back, but it was worth it - you could read it online, but I prefer ebooks). This one is called Helen Of Troy;  I've been back in the mood for  things Trojan since my nephew Mark rang me last week, asking for evidence of the Trojan War, to help with an assignment he was doing for uni. I found him some good web sites and then felt hungry for Trojan War stuff myself.

There's The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I'm having great fun rereading. It has occurred to me that both Percy and Marguerite are blonde, something I've never seen in any film version - the closest was the telemovie with Anthony Andrews, who is blonde, and Jane Seymour, who isn't, but made a lovely Marguerite. Mr Andrews, incidentally, is the only actor who's played Ivanhoe who fits Walter Scott's description of the character. That was a great telemovie, by the way. It was generally well-cast, in my opinion, with Olivia Hussey as a gorgeous Rebecca, Sam Neill as Brian De Bois-Gilbert, James Mason as Isaac of York, Lysette Anthony as a wonderfully whining Rowena and Athelstane played perfectly by the actor who played Arthur's Saxon foster brother Cei in Arthur Of The Britons. And a Robin Hood who could have done his own Robin Hood movie.

I've downloaded John Buchan's The Thirty Nine Steps, which I read years ago. It will make a fun reread. And Andre Norton's All Cats Are Gray, which came with the original SF magazine cover.

It's worth looking in the iBooks store because there's often a first-of-a-series offered free temporarily by publishers. I managed to get hold of Kerry Greenwood's first Corinna Chapman novel, Earthly Delights, which was being offered free that week. I have it, I've read it, but this is a series I read and reread. There was a first of a series Jessica Shirvington novel being offered free this week. This is an  author I haven't read, but our students like her, so time to check her out.

This week I discovered why the University of Adelaide web site is able to offer free ebooks of Joephine Tey's books: they're out of copyright in Australia. The books are not the best; the covers don't show title or author and the text is crude. But they're free if you live here and better than Australian Gutenberg, which doesn't offer mobi or ePub, only HTML which you have to read online, text or zipped versions which you have to unzip and can then read in Pages. There are ways to convert, but too much bother.

The Baen web site is worth checking out. It offers some ebooks by their authors free. These are mostly temporary, so good to go back now and then to see what's up.

I did buy some books this week. I'm enjoying the Agatha Raisin whodunnits, by MC Beaton, who aso wrote Hamish Macbeth, and also bought Keith Roberts' Pavane, through SF Gateway, a project that is digitalising quite a few classics.

A nice haul this week!


Friday, September 19, 2014

On This Day: A September 20 Birthday Meme

For me, in the Southern Hemisphere, it's September 20, though Blogger, a Northern Hemisphere program, will stick September 19 above this post. Ignore it. I'm going to write about September 20, okay? 

There is no real literary-related stuff happening on September 20 in history, so here is the closest I can get: on this day, the Greeks defeated the Persians in the Battle of Salamis, in 480 BCE. A lot of stuff has been written about that, starting with Herodotus, the "Father of History" and one of the veterans of that battle was Aeschylus, one of the big three playwrights of ancient Athens. 

There's plenty more if you like wars, plagues, suicide bombings and such, plus a mention of the creation of the first petrol-fuelled car, leading to the great age of pollution and fights over oil that we all know and love, but I might skip it. I only mentioned Salamis because there was a famous writer fighting in it. 

Let's get on to the birthdays.  


There was Arthur, Prince of Wales, born in 1486, to Elizabeth of York and that nasty man Henry VII. Imagine how much would never have been written if the poor boy had survived to become king instead of his brother Henry VIII! I mean, really. The history of Europe would have been so very different, whether for good or ill. A lot of people writing about the reign of Henry would never have had the chance. For starters, no Wolf Hall and Bringing Up The Bodies. ;-). No Six Wives Of Henry VIII. No Anne Boleyn websites. No opera Anna Bolena. Though, knowing Henry, he would have found his own ways to power, even if he was just the kid brother of King Arthur. And maybe Alison Weir and Hilary Mantel would have found plenty of material about the reign of Arthur to inspire them. Still, we'd have missed a lot of literary enjoyment.

Then there's Steve Gerber, a big man in the world of comic book writing, specifically Marvel comics. He's dead, alas, but did a lot during his lifetime, quite apart from his creation Howard the Duck. He has an entry in Wikipedia if you want to look him up for his long list of works.

Today, September 20, is also the birthday of George R R Martin, author of the great mediaeval epic fantasy soap opera The Game Of Thrones! If you don't know about him, you have been hiding under a rock. Who would have thought when I read the first novel of the series back when it first came out, that t would go on to be so huge? To be honest, while I do like it - it has such a wonderful feel of grubby "real" Middle Ages - there are other books of his I like better. 


One of them, Fevre Dream is unlikely ever to be made into a TV series, unless they want something to follow up GOT once it's finished. There are some hints on the Internet that they might be able to get some interest in a film rather than a series. I'll believe that when I see it.  It's standalone, not too thick, and it has vampires in it, but Martin's vampires are a race, not undead. One of them who is tired of killing, has come up with a formula that will enable vampires to avoid drinking human blood. He orders a magnificent paddle-steamer built so he can travel up the Mississippi river finding other vamps with his attitude to join him. It's set in the pre Civil War era because, as Martin said at a Melbourne con I attended, it was a time when slaves could be killed easily without anyone asking questions. Another Martin book I like better than GOT is the delicious Tuf Voyaging, a series of connected short stories set in a seed ship travelling through space, with the title character and his many cats. A good book for SF reading cat lovers!




It's also the birthday of Keith Roberts, author of the wonderful alternative universe novel Pavane, a classic of AU fiction, which starts with the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I and goes on to speculate on a world in which the Church rules.

Today is the birthday of the totally un-writing-related Sophia Loren, but what the heck! Such a beautiful woman and fine actress!

There are a number of Christian feast days, but it's also the seventh day of the Eleusinian Mysteries, which play a big part in literature. Mary Renault's The King Must Die is in there, among others. That's a wonderful book I first read when I was about twelve. My copy is falling apart. I'm holding out for the ebook which isn't yet on iBooks, though some of her other books are.

So, what do you think of this day in history? 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Crime Time Is Now An Ebook!



This evening I had an email from my publisher, Paul Collins of Ford Street Publishing, to say that you can now buy Crime Time:Australians Behaving Badly from Amazon, both in paperback and for Kindle. Yay! About time! 



Apparently, if you buy it in paperback from Amazon, they'll sell you the ebook much cheaper. 
Not sure how many people would want to buy both but hey, you can always give the paperback 
as a gift to the child in your life and enjoy the ebook yourself. 
If you prefer ePub, iBooks already 
has it in this part of the world and I imagine the US page 
will be  taking pre-orders already and selling in a few days - 
Paul assured me it would be up on iBooks -presumably
 the US iBooks page - soon. 

I'm quite excited. This is one book that I worked my guts out on and for which I had such high hopes 
and it made so few sales it never earned back its advance despite excellent reviews and the fact that 
when kids saw it, they wanted it. Not sure how well it will do in the US, where it's likely to 
get banned for violence(well, it IS a history of crime, what are you expecting, fairies and butterflies?). 

But the thing is, neither bookshops nor the distributor website knew what to do with it or where to put it. The cover, which was designed by Grant Gittus, who did the posters for the Word Science Fiction Convention, is simply gorgeous, but it made the book end up in adult  true crime. I remember asking in Borders for the section on crime and the young salesman saying,"What, in the CHILDREN'S section?" On the distributor's website it was under non fiction. Even my local library put it in the wrong section till I told them it was a children's book. 

So this new thing gives me some hope that there will be a new lot of reviews, including some overseas. And maybe some sales.

There's a sample chapter on this site(check out the side of this page) both in HTML and in ePub, in case you want to see what you're getting - well, you can do that on iBooks anyway, and Amazon gives you a peek inside too. But this is a favourite chapter of mine, about the April Fool's Day blunder by two dimwitted robbers.

I will probably do a Goodreads giveaway to celebrate even though I have had little luck with giveaways in the past. 

I also have some great bookmarks, both Crime Time and Wolfborn, for consolation prizes.

What do you think? Should I do another giveaway? 


Sunday, September 07, 2014

This Week's Book Downloads!

Four this week. I downloaded Anh Do's The Happiest Refugee because my school is considering replacing Deadly Unna, which has been the Year 9 text for some years, with this one. I admit I was offered a copy for reviewing and never got around to it. It didn't seem to be for kids. Let's see how I go with the ebook.

I once read and loved The Three Musketeers and yesterday it was on TV, the old version withGene Kelly   as D'Artagnan, June Allyson as Constance and Lana Turner as Milady.and, I think, Vincent Price being a villain as usual. I confess I prefer the later version with Oliver Reed as Athos and Michael York as D'Artagnan. And Charlton Heston, of all people, as Richelieu! But the book is wonderful.  I got it from Project Gutenberg.

Harry Potter's Bookshelf by John Granger looks promising as a discussion of the great books behind the Potter series. We'll see.

Lastly, I've just downloaded an anthology called Firebirds Rising with some of my favourite fantasy writers including the likes of Charles De Lint, Kara Dalkey, Tanith Lee, Nina Kiriki Hoffman and Pamela Dean and there's even a story in there by Aussie Alison Goodman, whom I've known since we were on the Aussiecon 3 committee together and who first mentioned Harry Potter to me. I've watched her career as she's gone on to become someone who can make a living from her writing, something very few Australian writers can claim - even the fabulous Ambelin Kwaymullina, author fthe  Tribe series, has, like me, a full time day job as a teacher! Alison made her first school visit to talk to my very first book club; she wanted the practice, so I invited her to talk to the four Year 12 students who were coming along to book club meetings. I'll look forward to reading her story in Firebirds Rising.

When I've read some more Aurealis books, anyway. I'm currently reading about the adventures of a child fairy called Daisy. Have to get those finished, then the John Flanagan Brotherband novel. 

Friday, August 29, 2014

Re-reading Now...The Songkiller Saga

Here I am, in the middle of the Aurealis judging and I'm re-reading. I have read as far as I can with the books I have - I won't read the new Brotherband book till I've caught up with the others, I'm getting there... Still have Brotherband 3 to read before picking up 4. This week a courier left a message on my doormat, so I will have to phone before I can get my next bunch of books.

But I discovered that my old Elizabeth Scarborough favourite, the Songkiller Saga, is available in ebook, only $3.99 a volume. I remember discovering the first volume, The Phantom Banjo, on a remainders table. It wasn't out of print. Ironically, the only volume I had trouble getting was the final one, Strum Again? 

Finally, though, I had the lot, and what a story it was, with Hell deciding to wipe out folk music because it kept humans hopeful. Folk musicians forget the words or are killed off, the entire Library of Congress archive is burned down. It only seems to be happening in the US for the time being, though, so a bunch of intrepid musicians escape to Britain, where their songs came from, to retrieve them. 

I have always loved folk music, but this trilogy opened my eyes to just how much there is out there, including some songs that I hadn't realised were traditional or that were from places other than the British Isles. The books of Charles De Lint have also done this for me, and he gets a brief mention in this series. I ended up buying a lot of CDs as a result of reading these books - Songkiller and De Lint alike(I had the privilege of doing a panel with him once, at a Swancon, and hearing him and his wife jamming with Anne Poore, a local harpist)

So now I'm re-reading and loving it just as much as the first time around. I may just download some more  Scarborough books when I've finished. She's written some lovely stuff over the years and I haven't read all of it. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Free Ebooks From This Site

If you take a look at the side of this page, among all the links to my reviewing policy and such, you'll find some things I've ebooked for you and put on Dropbox. I don't know how long it has been since anyone downloaded any of them - it's too easy not to notice stuff on the side - but there's some good stuff there. There are free samples from two of my books. There are some of my published stories. There is a book of interviews with the likes of Juliet Marillier and Marianne De Pierres, Charlie Higson and Mark Walden and Melbourne writer Gabrielle Wang and CBCA judges Tehani Wessely and Miffy Farqharson. There's a little book of student writing so you know what good stuff is happening in the western suburbs of Melbourne.

Help yourself! And do let me know what you think.